Ahead of Parliament’s scheduled, ‘Meaningful Vote’ on Tuesday 11th December, BMG Research has been commissioned by Change Britain to undertake a large and landmark opinion poll on how the public feel about the Withdrawal Agreement, how the proposed agreement compares to other potential Brexit outcomes, and how the public want their MPs to vote on the issue.
BMG interviewed more than ten thousand adults living in Great Britain. In an attempt to ensure that all respondents were able to respond meaningfully to questions of a complex nature, before asking any questions about preferred outcomes, all respondents were made to read short descriptions on six terms used to describe potential outcomes. These were; the Withdrawal Agreement, No Deal, WTO Rules, A Canada Plus trade deal, the Norway Option and a Customs Union. These descriptions were taken and adapted for the survey from the UK’s independent and impartial fact-checking charity Full Fact.
Reading Material for Respondents
- The Withdrawal Agreement is the draft treaty which the UK government has just agreed with the EU. Under the Withdrawal Agreement the UK commits to pay around £39 billion, the rights of UK and EU citizens are agreed and the UK commits to a backstop arrangement on Northern Ireland. In return the UK has a two-year transition period during which it is no longer a member of the EU but stays in the EU’s single market and customs union. During the transition period the UK would aim to agree a new treaty with the EU on the rules for future trade. If the UK and EU can’t agree, then this could trigger the backstop meaning that the UK would go into a customs union with the EU with additional rules for Northern Ireland. If the backstop is triggered, the UK could leave if the EU agreed or via a mediation process. The Withdrawal Agreement also includes a political declaration which sets out a vision for the future relationship between the EU and the UK.
- Leaving the EU with No Deal would mean the UK would no longer be a member of the EU and would instead trade on WTO terms. If there were no agreement with the EU on a transition from being inside the EU to being outside, there would be a period of adjustment to WTO terms which some believe would be very disruptive. Others believe that the EU would reach an agreement with the UK that would be enough to enable a transition that was not very disruptive.
- Trading on WTO rules means that the UK would be outside the EU, but trading under rules agreed by the World Trade Organisation (WTO). Around 43% of the UK’s exports and 34% of the UK’s imports are traded under WTO rules. Some of our exports to the EU or other countries where we have a trade agreement are actually traded on terms that are similar to WTO rules. Under WTO terms the UK would be completely outside the EU and able to negotiate its own free trade deals with other countries, including with the EU.
- A Canada Plus trade deal would be a comprehensive free trade deal between the UK and the EU similar to deals that the EU has negotiated with Canada, Japan and South Korea. Canada has completely tariff-free trade in goods only with the EU, but faces regulatory barriers to trade and the movement of services is also more limited with the European Union. Canada is not subject to EU law or institutions and doesn’t pay the EU any money.
- The Norway option would mean being a member of the European Economic Area (EEA). Norway is in the EU’s single market with almost the same free trade terms with the EU that the UK has now. Norway has free movement of labour to and from the EU and makes annual payments to the EU of about 2/3 of the amount per head that the UK pays. Norway is not in the EU’s customs union so can strike its own free trade deals and controls its own fisheries and agriculture. Norway has to accept a significant proportion of EU law but has no role in making that law.
- A Customs Union is a free trade area in which countries can’t put tariffs on goods and services imported from each other and they set the same tariff for countries outside the customs union. If the UK is in a customs union with the EU then it could trade freely with other countries in the customs union but could not agree free trade deals with other countries. When the EU agrees free trade deals with other countries it would negotiate access to all the markets of the customs union including the UK, but the UK would have no formal role in the negotiations.
Findings of the study
Finding #1 – A majority of the public reject Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement and want their MP to vote against it
- The public reject Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement. 50% disapprove of the deal compared to just 25% that approve (excluding don’t knows 11%). This gap widens to 52% disapprove and 25% approve among eligible and registered voters
- Some 53% of voters want their MP to vote against the deal and only 36% want their MP to vote for it, with 10% saying their MP should abstain
- When we estimate these results at a constituency level, the results suggest that a majority of voters in every British constituency do not want their MP to vote for the Withdrawal Agreement (i.e. either vote against or abstain)
Also…most people want their MPs to take a view
- More than two thirds of people (68% excluding don’t know) agree with the statement “MPs should take a view and vote either FOR or AGAINST Theresa May’s Brexit deal, rather than abstaining by refusing to vote either way”. Just 12% disagree and 27% said neither or they don’t know.
- This figure rises to three quarters (75%) among Conservative voters and Leave voters (74%).
Finding #2 – More people than not think there would be scope to renegotiate the deal and a majority feel that a better deal could have been negotiated with the EU
- 41% feel that there would be scope to renegotiate the deal while 34% say no, and 25% say they don’t know.
- 52% feel that a better deal could have been negotiated with the EU while just 22% feel that May’s Withdrawal Agreement is the best deal that could have been negotiated and 26% say they don’t know
Finding #3 – The public want their MPs to vote against a second referendum
- 51% want their MP to vote against a second referendum compared to 45% who want their MP to vote for it, and 4% saying their MP should abstain (excluding 11% who said they don’t know).
- 44% of Conservative supporters say that they will be less likely to vote for their MP if they back another referendum
- When mapped down to constituencies, estimates suggest that a majority of all constituents (i.e. including adults who are registered, unregistered and not eligible to vote) in 255 of the 632 in Great Britain constituencies want their MP to vote for another referendum, should a vote be called in Parliament.
Finding #4 – Brexit that achieves a Canada Plus outcome is more strongly preferred than other outcomes
- When asked to rank order a eight possible of Brexit outcomes, most voters say that they’re preferred outcome would be to renegotiate with the EU to achieve a ‘Canada Plus’ style deal (18%). Their second would be to leave the EU onto WTO Rules, in order to negotiate a Canada Plus style deal (15%). Third most popular was a Norway style EEA deal. Least popular options were accepting the Withdrawal Agreement (10%), renegotiating to stay in the EU (10%) and a second referendum on whether to leave or remain (9%)
- Looking ten years ahead, voters say that they would strongly prefer a relationship with the EU based on a Canada Plus style free trade agreement, rather than being in the EEA on terms similar to Norway, being a full member of the EU, being in a customs union with the EU and being outside the EU and trading on WTO rules.
- When asked to choose the best outcome for the UK in 10 years’ time, most voters (29%) ranked a Canada Plus style free trade deal as best. The UK being a full member of the EU was least likely to be selected as best (15%). Interestingly, trading on WTO rules was second lowest, suggesting that most voters do not see it as an attractive long-term goal
Finding #5 – The public only prefer May’s Withdrawal Agreement if the only other option is staying in the EU
- Almost every other Brexit option is chosen in preference to the Withdrawal Agreement.
- The data suggest that Brexit options that result in a Canada Plus style free trade agreement with the European Union tend to get the most support.
- When the public are asked to choose between May’s Withdrawal Agreement and a number of alternative options in turn, support breaks down as follows:
- 49% chose renegotiating to stay in the EU (47% among registered voters), 51% prefer the Withdrawal Agreement
- 53% opt for a second referendum (50% among registered voters), 47% opt for the Withdrawal Agreement
- 55% support WTO Rules (56% among registered voters), 45% opt for the Withdrawal Agreement
- 60% support joining the EEA on similar terms to Norway (59% among registered voters), 40% favour the Withdrawal Agreement
- 64% support leaving temporarily on WTO Rules in order to try and negotiate a Canada Plus style free trade deal (56% among registered voters), 36% opt for the Withdrawal Agreement
- 66% support the UK government attempting to negotiate a Canada Plus style free trade deal before the UK exits, 34% opt for the Withdrawal Agreement
Editorial note – 22.01.2019
The two ranking questions displayed in “Finding #4” are taken from two MaxDiff experiments.
The first question asked respondents “Below is a list of potential options regarding Brexit. If you had to choose, which outcome would be your most preferred, and which your least preferred?”.
The second question asked “Thinking now about the UK’s relationship with the EU in 10 years time. Which of the following outcomes would you most prefer, and which would you least prefer?”.
For both questions, respondents were presented with a set of random attributes (possible outcomes) and each time they were asked to pick their most preferred outcomes and their least preferred outcome. These exercises were then repeated for each respondent.
The resulting figures essentially represent the respondents’ probability of selecting their preferred response as their ‘preferred option’, taking both their least preferred and most preferred outcomes into account. The resulting figures can therefore be viewed as an estimate of acceptability of each of the possible outcomes, and not simply an estimate of the probability that the option would be seen as the most preferred or least preferred.
Methodology, fieldwork dates, and a full breakdown of these results can be found here.
For a more detailed breakdown of results from this poll, or any other results from our polling series, please get in touch by email or phone.
0121 333 6006
Michael Turner – Head of Polling & Research Director